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A cinema harkens to golden yesteryear

Updated Apr 10, 2015 11:23am
Projectionist Asghar Ali Butt operates the old movie projector during a film screening. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
Projectionist Asghar Ali Butt operates the old movie projector during a film screening. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

In the middle of Rawalpindi’s bustling Raja bazaar stands a dilapidated old double-storey building. Brightly colored posters advertising the latest films greet visitors at the entrance to Khursheed Cinema, one of the oldest in the city. This cinema predates Pakistan and even today uses screening technology as old as the cinema itself.

“The projector used here is one of the oldest and rarest in the country,” said projectionist Asghar Ali Butt. Today this cinema is best known for Pashto films. After a hard day’s work, labourers, rickshaw and taxi drivers, cart pushers and others make their way to this cinema to unwind. Action-packed films with song, dance and fight sequences are one of the few sources of entertainment available to them. One of the visitors to the cinema, Javed Khan had come to watch the newly-released film “Gul Surey Surey Kram.”

“Rs100 for a film is not too much and if the film is good, it’s money well-spent” he said.

“Shahid Khan is my favourite actor and I never miss his films,” he added.

The cinema has three shows every day. Unfortunately, the golden days of Khursheed Cinema appear to be long gone. With the decline in the local film industry, over the last few decades, the cinema business has also taken a hit.

A visitor looks at the displayed posters. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
A visitor looks at the displayed posters. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

The walls of the cinema hall are decorated with colourful posters of new and old Pashto films. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
The walls of the cinema hall are decorated with colourful posters of new and old Pashto films. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

The paint on the walls in the main screening room is peeling and foam peaks out from the torn fabric of the seats. There are only half a dozen viewers to fill the 400 available seats. The screen itself blurs in the middle of the screening.

“Hard times have befallen us. Sometimes it is even difficult to pay the electricity bills,” said Inamullah Khan, who works at the cinema.

He said the turnout depends on what film is playing. “Sometimes, we screen old films that were hits in their time,” he said.

The sound system and electric equipment which are over half a century old. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
The sound system and electric equipment which are over half a century old. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

Inside the projector room, these UK built film projectors are as old as the cinema itself. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
Inside the projector room, these UK built film projectors are as old as the cinema itself. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

According to him, these days Shahid Khan, Ajab Gul and Sobia Khan are the most the popular film stars. Projectionist Asghar Ali Butt has been working here for over 20 years. “Once there were several cinemas active in the city and many people routinely came to watch movies. Now it has been a very long time since we had a full house,” he said.

Less than a dozen spectators watch films in the dilapidated old screening room. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
Less than a dozen spectators watch films in the dilapidated old screening room. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
The door of the upper gallery hall of the cinema. With not enough visitors to the cinema, the door has been closed for several years. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
The door of the upper gallery hall of the cinema. With not enough visitors to the cinema, the door has been closed for several years. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
A rack with film reels and records in the projection room.  — Photo by Shiraz Hassan
A rack with film reels and records in the projection room. — Photo by Shiraz Hassan

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2015

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